Guidance, Pastoral and Bureaucratic: On Friday, June 13 clergy in the Sierra Pacific Synod received a footnote-laden letter from Rev. David G. Mullen, bishop of the synod, and Rev. Mark Holmerud, bishop elect addressing the issue same-sex marriages. In California, marriage licenses can be issued to same-sex couples beginning June 17. The bishops note:
It should be understood that no pastor is required to preside over any marriage for which s/he does not feel it would be pastorally appropriate to perform such a service. We also understand that some of you may choose to offer such a ceremony, but are concerned about possible consequences for such a choice.
The letter invites clergy who are asked to perform same-sex marriages to continue the synod's recommended practice of consulting with the bishop in advance of performing the rite.
Naturally, before the letter was sent to clergy, it was sent to the office of ELCA Secretary David Swartling for comment. And comment he did in a memo dated May 27. The bishops quote Secretary Swartling:
The constitution and bylaws, as well as related policy documents of the ELCA, do not provide a basis for pastors of this church to officiate at a same-sex marriage. Under ELCA policy, marriage is defined as a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman. The Churchwide Assembly has had opportunities to change this policy, both to make it less restrictive and to make it more restrictive. It has declined to do so.
In light of ELCA policy, pastors, synodically authorized ministers, and congregations may be subject to discipline if they officiate at same-sex marriages and allow them to take place in their buildings. ELCA governing documents identify those who may initiate charges; those who may bring charges against a pastor are enumerated in ELCA 20.21.03, and those who may bring charges against a congregation are listed in ELCA 20.31.03. These provisions mean that bishops cannot preclude the commencement of disciplinary action, even if they personally desire to exercise restraint pending the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.
The bishops indicate that they will take to heart the recommendation of the 2007 ELCA Churchwide Assembly to exercise restraint in invoking disciplinary procedures to address these matters. As Secretary Swartling's comments indicate, bishops "cannot preclude" disciplinary action entirely, and while Mr. Swartling provides an excellent summary of the mechanics of the disciplinary process, he does not indicate what reasonable grounds there might be for invoking the disciplinary process against pastors who perform same-sex marriages.
Bishop in Civil Union: On Saturday June 7 at St. Paul Episcopal Church in Concord, New Hampshire, before a congregation of about 120 people, Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire Rev. Gene Robinson entered into a civil union with his partner of 20 years Mark Andrew.
The ceremony was not widely publicized, and we first learned of the event from Catholic News Agency which is apparently incapable of using the word "gay", preferring the more formal term "homosexual."
New IT Czar for ELCA: On May 30, ELCA Treasurer Christina Jackson-Skelton announced that Jonathan Beyer will become executive director for ELCA Information Technology (IT) on July 1. Mr. Beyer is currently vice president for information technology operations and infrastructure for Incisent Technologies ("Let the Front Line Lead the Way").
Beyer will succeed LaRue Unglaube, who headed IT beginning in April 1999, after serving as a systems analyst from 1988 to 1993 and IT manager for systems development from 1993 to 1999. Ms. Unglaube retired May 31. During Ms. Unglaube's tenure, the ELCA made good progress in adopting new technology and we hope her achievements have been duly recognized.
For those who don't know what the ELCA's IT department does, the ELCA press release offers this pointer
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For more information about the ELCA's IT unit, visit http://archive.ELCA.org/technology/ on the Web.
We think the URL pointing to the archive of the old ELCA web site might be a sore point for some.
In April, the ELCA launched an extensive revision of its web site but two months after the fact still relies heavily on archived content that has not yet migrated to the new site. In the grand scheme of things, however, we think that's a fairly minor inconvenience.
In our view, the new web site's most egregious problems have to do with intention: the new site emphasizes the thematic (Where Will God's Love Take You) over the practical (Find a Congregation). Somehow, we doubt that the IT Czar, whoever it may be, has much control over that aspect of the site.
Mary of Nazareth: On June 17, according to the Catholic News Agency, a unique musical on the life of the Virgin Mary will premier at the Vaticanís Paul VI Hall. The musical is titled Mary of Nazareth, an ongoing story. The show is written and directed by Maria Pia Liotta, a ballerina who is now the artistic director of Francesco Cilea Theatre in Reggio Calabria. Ms Liotta's daughter, Alma Manera (pictured), a Miss Italy contestant and noted soprano, will play Mary. The show's music was composed by Stelvio Cipriani who has many film scores to his credit. The musical traces the life story of the Virgin Mary, from her youth to her eventual ascent into heaven and return as a messenger of peace. The producers have noted that to depict Mary as a modern woman, the show takes some poetic license with the Biblical account of Mary.
The Vatican has not contributed financially to the production, and It is not known if Pope Benedict will attend the premier.
Interstate Commerce: With the Lutherans Concerned (LCNA) biennial assembly (Hearts on Fire) occurring in San Francisco on the July 4 weekend, there will be ample opportunity for same-sex Lutheran couples from all across the ELCA to cross state lines to be married. There will also be ample opportunity for Lutheran clergy from all across the ELCA to cross state lines to perform marriages for those couples.
Marriage laws vary considerably from state to state and couples traveling to California to be married would do well to investigate any limits their home state might put on recognizing marriages performed out of state. A good place to begin this research is Traveling to Another State or Country to Marry? an FAQ prepared by Lambda Legal. We especially like the Lambda Legal Safety Scale, and easy-to-use chart showing how states compare in their respect for the rights of same-sex couples.
Save the Date: The ordination extra ordinem of Lura Groen will be held at Grace Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas on July 26, 2008 at 2:00PM. Ms. Groen was approved for ministry by Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) and is on the ELM roster.
A reception at the church will follow the ordination. The weekend's festivities also include a Celebration Dinner fund raiser. Tickets for the dinner are $100. For more information contact Grace Lutheran.
Invitations were sent to local clergy, and a new topic was opened on the ALPB Forum Online to discuss the propriety of having a fund-raising event in conjunction with an ordination.
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